Monday, February 10, 2014

Remembering old friends

When I think of Valentine’s Day — reminder: it’s this Friday — I always find myself reflecting back to the days when Sheldon and Bernice Waterman lived across the street from our family in Kissimmee.

Shelly and Bernie’s wedding anniversary was Feb. 14. It was a second marriage for Shelly, the first for Bernie, and although they had no children together, the couple, older than Ralph and me, easily slipped into the role of friends to us and surrogate grandparents to our kids. At the time, we had three children. Our youngest son had not yet been born.

Bernie and Shelly Waterman, circa 1980s

Shelly, a tall slender man with slightly stooped shoulders, was the kind of fellow always ready with a joke to share. As a stripper on a printing press — a job title that lent itself to no shortage of witty remarks — his stories never failed to amuse and were told in a sweet-spirited manner that mirrored his gentle nature.

His counterpart, Bernie, was a short-haired, middle-aged woman who, despite a slightly acerbic disposition, loved our children unconditionally. She was especially fond of my oldest son, Timothy, who shared her birthday. She and my then-five-year-old son could sit for hours playing the card game Concentration (Timmy was a whiz at that game) and still be up for another round the next day.

Our daughters, Amber and Jenny, fishing at Fort DeSoto with friend and former neighbor, Shelly Waterman (photograph courtesy of Shelly Waterman, circa 1980s)

As a young wife, I often watched my older neighbors with an eye toward gleaning as much knowledge as I could from their relationship. I noticed how much Shelly and Bernie seemed to enjoy each other’s company, how often they smiled at one another and shared private jokes. Although most couples seemed to grow apart as the years went by, Shelly and Bernie grew closer. Whenever Shelly wasn’t at work, he and Bernie were together. Whether it was taking a trip in one of the many RVs Shelly remodeled in the driveway, volunteering at Give Kids The World, going for a bike ride around the community or simply driving into town for groceries, they were two people who acted as one.

We lived across the street from the Watermans for five years before relocating to Lake County. For several years after we moved, we stayed in touch, even visiting each other occasionally. Eventually, however, distance combined with the busyness of raising a young family got in the way. We drifted apart.

Then one day, out of the blue. Shelly called to say Bernie had passed away.

In our culture, we commonly define Valentine’s Day as a day to remember loved ones. Usually that means paying tribute to a family member like a husband or wife. For me, however, an important part of every Valentine’s Day is time spent reflecting upon a couple whose Feb. 14 anniversary epitomized romance, love and togetherness.

I’m sad I lost touch with Shelly and Bernie.  I’m even sadder that Bernie is no longer with us.  But I’m glad this gentle, loving couple was once a part of my life.  Without any deliberate teaching on their part, my neighbors taught me well.  Sometimes Valentine’s Day isn’t just about celebrating those nearest and dearest to us.  It’s also about remembering the unintentional gifts of others.


  1. This is now one of my favorite of your posts. A beautiful story, well told, for a reason far outside the box of Valentine sentiments. Thank you!

    1. So glad you liked it! After writing the story I reconnected with Shelly who is now 80 years old and living in southwest FL. He happy, healthy and enjoying life. We had a great catch-up visit with one another.